Wine&Dine: Giovanna’s Gift

I sometimes remind myself, or Spouse does, that ‘Giovanna was a most original and gifted pasta cook’. I don’t know Giovanna, nor do I know anything about her apart from the scarce details Elizabeth David shared with her readers: that she was young and worked in a country restaurant in Tuscany in the 1970s (An Omelette and a Glass of Wine, p. 107 [Dutch edition]). And that she could make a mean spaghetti.
The combination of ingredients may seem a bit unusual, and the amounts rather odd (only a 100 gr of liver and no less than 200 gr of parmesan) but do stick to the recipe as much as you can. Giovanna is, after all, an original and gifted cook. (I must confess that I am not always that obedient, being more generous with some ingredients and less with others, and turning to bacon if per chance the fridge does not provide me with coppa. The result is still tasty, but not as good as it could have been.)

What to drink with it? In my opinion a light red wine would be best. A fruity Cabernet Franc, for example, that pairs a certain earthyness with freshness, as does this dish.

Dine: Spaghetti with chicken livers and lemon (serving 4)
Cook the pasta al dente. Sauté finely chopped chicken livers (100 gr) with 4-5 gloves of chopped garlic (better still: rub garlic with coarse salt into a paste), 100 gr coppa, and the grated peel of 1 lemon in olive oil for ca. 3 minutes (be careful not to overcook). Beat 1 egg and 4 egg yolks with 200 gr of grated parmesan or pecorino. Pour egg mixture into the pan with the livers (heat off) and mix thoroughly. Drain pasta and add to the mixture. Keep stirring and mixing till sauce and pasta are amalgamated.andides

Wine: Les Andides Saumur Champigny
Les Andides Saumur Champigny 2013, 12.5%vol, € 6 (sale price at Albert Heijn)
Fruity with earthy tones, soft tannins, easy. Good value for money. Cave de Saumur is part of the cooperative Alliance Loire, a big player in the region. The same wine may be found with other retailers under a different name. Serve slightly chilled.


A Taste of Pennsylvania

Now that I have managed the art of visiting European vineyards I thought it time to take it up a step and try my luck across the ocean. In the New World, I was told by a Californian friend, wine tastings are about wine drinking – and drinking a lot. Having a European taste himself but feeling obliged to give Californian wine a fair chance, he once embarked on a tasting trip. He started off fine, talking to the vintners, being genuinely interested, asking questions, tasting, spitting, commenting, in short ‘the works’. But the wines were not to his liking, nor was he encouraged in his professional style by the bus loads of wine tourists who inundated the tasting rooms. In the end, having spit less and less, somehow trying to wash off the taste by drinking more, he found himself crawling AbFab style out of his wife’s car to join a flock of sheep.

Pennsylvania isn’t California in many ways. Wine making started early but had to deal with major setbacks of which it is still recovering. William Penn himself was one of the first who gave it a try (around 1682), but as he concentrated on vinifera vines he had little success and was forced to furnish the cellar of his Philadelphia house with European wines instead (A History of Wine in America, p. 33). Still, he stood at the cradle of American wine making: it was near his very premises, almost a century later, that a spontaneous hybrid between a vinifera and a labrusco was found: the Alexander grape (named after the gardener of Penn’s son), with which the first commercial wines were made (p. 85).
But even the combined forces of statesmen like William Penn and Benjamin Franklin and the many inquisitive Rhinelanders and Moravians who missed their homeland drink couldn’t hold out against the backdrops history (Revolution, Civil War, Prohibition) and nature (phylloxera, mildew, black rot) was providing them with. As a result Pennsylvania became famous for its unfermented grape juice, made from grapes unsuitable for wine making. Only as late as 1968 Pennsylvania’s Farm Winery Act allowed grape growers to make, and sell, wine.

BuckinghamValleyVineyards-5Pennsylvania’s 140+ wineries are thus all relatively young. That may be the reason that for some of them wine seems to be something on the side, musical events or running a bar being the core business. Not so for Buckingham Valley Vineyards and Winery. This family-owned winery of over 40 acres makes affordable dry and sweet wines from vinifera, native American and hybrid grapes and several sweet fruit wines. In their own words: ‘We consider wine to be a food item, to be enjoyed with meals or without, to be consumed without ceremony or snobbery, to be affordable on an every-day basis.’ That their wines are low in alcohol (11%vol) is a bonus too.
When I asked for a spittoon, I learned that here too tasting means drinking. Did I think I wasn’t going to like their wines? But after a few minutes they came up with something I could use as such.
Though I didn’t like all the wines I tasted (e.g., I thought the Merlot unremarkable, the Niagara to be avoided) I did have a liking for their Seyval Blanc and Chambourcin.
Seyval Blanc (no year, 11%vol., $11): Sweet apples, floral notes. Bit sweet. Easy. Drink well chilled as aperitif or with salad.
Chambourcin (no year, 11%vol., $11): Best of their reds. Dark-red in colour. Full-bodied, oak-barrelled. Herbs, black currant leafs. Benefits from a little chilling.

20141206_185026Stargazers Vineyard & Winery has a little shop and tasting room (with spittoon, though I got the impression the shop manager was a little shocked when I spat into it) in the charming town of Lititz. I didn’t visit their home base, but I was told the wines there are sweeter than in the shop. Having said that, there was only one dry red wine available. Still, this nearly 20 year old winery is a serious one, taking into account terroir and sustainability, and resisting too much filtering.
Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 Reserve (13,5%vol., $18): The scent of black currants really comes out. Dry (without the ubiquitous American sweetness), fruity, some dark tones, smooth.
Arneis 2013 (12,5%vol., $20): This Piedmontese grape is doing a great job here. Pear, melon, juicy, lots of taste. Paired well with pan-fried fluke and grilled asparagus.

bluemountainI came across Blue Mountain Vineyard & Cellars, situated in the Lehigh Valley AVA, in Philadelphia’s Rittenhouse Square farmer’s market (see also under Famous Caffs). They started with French hybrid grapes but planted European varieties too as they found out soil and climate are similar to the Loire and Burgundy regions (and who wouldn’t want that?). With 100 acres and serveral selling points in Pennsylvania Blue Mountain is a big player.
Sauvignon Blanc 2013 (12,6%vol., $15,50): Sauvignon Blanc? You could have fooled me. Too sweet to my taste, lacking freshness. Not too bad though if well-chilled accompanying a beetroot salad with goat’s cheese.
Cabernet Franc 2010 (13%vol., $18): ‘For the adventurous wine drinker’, said my vendor who knows how to chat-up his customers. There is some truth in it. Light-bodied, fruity (red berries) with a green touch and an earthy finish. Soft tannines. I would pair it with porc, not with beef and chocolate as the label says.


Wine&Dine: Loire Cabernet Franc & Bavette

I love red Loire wines, be they made of Gamay, Pinot Noir or Cabernet Franc. They often combine a pleasant fruitiness with soft earthy tones, representing a certain light-heartedness, without being unserious. Of these three the Cabernet Franc is the more full-bodied and a bit sterner.

Though Cabernet Franc can be harsh and green, certainly if harvested too early (it’s a difficult grape), Jean-Noëlle Millon’s La Source du Ruault 2007 offers softness and ripeness. This unfiltered and un-fined Saumur Champigny has a fruity and herbal scent, a fruity palate and ripe tannins. It contains some depot (as an unfiltered and un-fined wine should), so you better leave the last sip in the bottle.

The website tells me Jean-Noëlle shifted to biodynamic wine making in 2007 (some years after taking over the business from Millon père) and has been certified since 2010. Grapes are hand-picked, fermentation takes place in concrete vats with natural yeasts, maturation in ‘barriques’.

La Source du Ruault 2007, Saumur Champigny (AOC), 12,5% alc. I was able to buy it at a discount (€ 7,60 instead of € 10,80) as the distributor needed space for new vintages.

We paired the Cabernet Franc with bavette, zucchini fritters, slow-cooked tomatoes from the oven and unmucked-about-with rocket. Having enough tannins for the bavette, fruitiness for the tomatoes and lightness to never overshadow the zucchini fritters, the La Source du Ruault proved to be a good choice.

Bavette? Yes, one of the cheaper and tastier steaks (popular nowadays in restaurants—crisis?). Maybe not to be found in the supermarket, but on offer at any decent butcher’s. Cut into small slices (0,5-1 cm) across the grain (otherwise the meat will fall apart), heat a frying (or even better: grill) pan till it’s very hot, fry a minute or so (no need to cook them through) on each side, sprinkle with sea salt and black pepper (and if you like a few drops of lemon juice).


(Previously posted on my blogspot site, April 2013)